The history of Senate Subcommittee hearings is a long and contentious one. Before the current fiasco we had Watergate. In the 1970s that pretty much defined what America was all about, as we sat glued to our TV’s and Radios for the better part of 1973 and into 1974. But before that, twenty years before, in fact. We had the Army-McCarthy Hearings which began on April 20, 1954 and aside from wall-to-wall TV coverage, was also covered on Radio. It was the event which, to some degree, defined the 1950s – in a decade filled with upheaval and change, the specter of Cold War hung over Washington like a pea soup fog. And America was riveted. Before that, we had the famous Kefauver Crime Committee Hearings, with the distinction of being the first set of Capitol Hill hearings to be carried live on TV.
Prior to that, the subcommittee hearings got little in the way of live coverage, usually capsule reports of days proceedings, or newspaper/magazine coverage. But with TV and the immediacy of these highly charged political moments, they were a natural for the burgeoning TV audience.
And on April 22 1954, the Army-McCarthy hearings began in earnest. At issue were charges of Communist infiltration of our government and branches crucial to our security. The State Department was targeted as a hot-bed of Communist sympathizers, and the Army was also the target, which Senator Joe McCarthy accused of being “soft” on Communism and Joe McCarthy rose to fame quickly as the most famous and feared Communist hunter on Capitol Hill. The reign of terror began in 1950, but by 1954 McCarthy was losing steam and allies. His rabid witch-hunt policies were not coming up with the results he insisted on. His “list of 200 known Communists” never really materialized and this turn of attention to the Army was a political gamble, which ultimately not only didn’t work, it cost McCarthy his position in the Senate.
But on April 27, 1954, the hearings were still fresh and the rancor was high, as is heard by some pretty feisty exchanges between McCarthy and the Defense team.
Further evidence it’s always been about spectacle, accusation and innuendo – and reputations be damned.
Here is that recap of the days hearings from April 27, 1954 as presented by CBS Radio.